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lili. archival experimentations.

Rachel Ward, 3 min., 2020


art installation

originally exhibited in 2016

Video + Art Installation

Rachel M. Ward 

Technical Production

Timothy Fernandes

liliuokalani. archival experimentations. 


liliuokalani. is an experiment in interactive biography and participatory transmedia. It tells the life story of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. Her life story is divided into sixteen (16) clips, detailing her birth, youth, reign, eventual overthrow and imprisonment — in the process of making Hawaii the “50th State of the Union.” Her personal narrative is representative of the historical chronicle of Hawaii and the shift in power from autonomy to subjugation, as well as the overarching story of the Hawaiian people more broadly. Each of the sixteen (16) video segments serves as a standalone visual poem, each containing a single archival photo and sentence from her memoir. In doing so, her biography is told in her own words, rather than through interpretation. 


Visitors to the installation are invited to pluck the ukulele strings — rigged to sense touch via conductivity — in order to generate the visual poems. The biography can be “plucked” in any order and experienced in a nonlinear manner—OR— her biography can be viewed in chronological order. In order to “unlock the chronology,” participants must play sixteen (16) notes from sheet music, provided. This 16-note “melody” represents the song “Aloha Oe” or “Farewell to Thee.” This song was written by Liliuokalani during the time she was detained as a political prisoner and now serves as a well-known cultural symbol of Hawaii. 


From a perspective of academic praxis, this project stands contra to the “ken burns effect” style of presenting historical photographs and archival material. It endeavors to convey the archive in an experimental, poetic and nonlinear fashion. This involved video-remixing the original, open-source images of the Queen from the Hawaiian Governments online archives. As such, this conceptual piece represents an experiment in the surface wanderings over art, history, anthropology, interactivity and digitalia in an attempt to locate the nebulous space where the five modalities intersect. 


Soundtrack // 

Aloha Oe performed by Madame Alapai in 1911

Lyrics and music handwritten by Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii


History //

According to the Smithsonian, “Liliʻuokalani Was Deposed Through a U.S.-Backed Coup. As American sugar and pineapple business interests grew on the Hawaiian islands, American settlers and businessmen wanted more control over the kingdom […] When Liliʻuokalani ascended to the throne, she refused to honor the 1887 constitution and proposed a constitution giving more power back to the monarchy. That was too much for Dole and the Americans. In January 1893, a “Committee of Safety” gathered near the queen’s Iolani palace. Stevens ordered 300 marines from the U.S.S. Boston to protect the committee, giving the U.S. government’s unofficial stamp of approval to the coup. To avoid bloodshed, Liliʻuokalani surrendered to the militia."

Images // 

All Images are Open Source from the Hawaiian Government / Photograph Collection. Hawaiʻi State Archives. Accessed 26 July 2020.


Media // 

Download Madame Alapai Song

Additional Song Details

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